Disclaimer: Shooting Victims is a portrait series by Benjamin Reed. No subjects were harmed in the making of this photograph.
Everybody knows Kobe. Hate him or love him he is the face of the NBA around the world right along with Lebron James. This was evident when our players went to the 2008 Beijing Olympic Games. Chinese fans hounded Kobe and the rest of the players with cameras and pens in friendly riot like fashion. Naturally I was excited to meet him.
Friend and Photographer Jay Clendenin was in the middle of a portrait series on Olympic athletes when he asked me to come to Vegas to help photograph Kobe right before the team would leave for Beijing. Having grown up a basketball fan my entire life and playing in high school (before I got cut) I was going with a great amount of respect. There was nothing I was going to do to portray myself as a loser. I thought.
We drove to a Las Vegas high school where the Olympic team was practicing. You got the feeling it was a secret practice. Friends and family were allowed to attend the practice but not many others were there along with stars of the league. Lebron James, Dwight Howard and Jason Kidd but it was Kobe who commanded the most media attention. Reporters seemed to swarm around him like flies.
Jay and I set up outside of the gym in an adjacent cafeteria. We built two sets. Jay wanted to convey an Olympic theme and had the idea to place a flag over Kobe’s shoulders. We also set up another backdrop for backup…always a great idea in case the first doesn’t work out as planned. We came a few hours early to make sure everything would go smoothly.
Kobe was eventually escorted to the cafeteria and were told 10-15 minutes to shoot.
He walked in the cafeteria. "Wooo." he said referring to the temperature change between the rooms.
Jay and I both smiled, introduced ourselves and shook his hand.
It’s always exciting to meet someone of celebrity status but you always mask it to maintain your professional composure. It turns back into a career.
Jay began shooting Polaroids to test the lighting and make adjustments for his 4×5 camera. I would step in with a digital for digital capture. It was a good flow. We really didn’t say much during the shoot other than adjustments he should make. It was more quiet than other shoots by comparison. Partly because we both had tremendous respect for the subject but also because we were really getting good shots.
We quickly moved to the second setting and began with the same type of flow. Polaroids, digital capture, 4×5.
"You got it?" Kobe said.
We were wrapping up and the gym door opened with one of the entourage telling us the shoot was over.
"Yes sir!" Kobe said as it ended.
He thanked us. We thanked him. Jay first. Then me. That’s when I made myself sound like a loser.
I held out my fist for a fist bump and said, "Bring home the Gold."
"Yes sir!" Kobe said again.
I smiled and laughed as he walked away. I was partly joking but it was partly my inability to filter my thoughts.
Jay walked over. "Ha ha. What did you say…ha ha."
"I said bring home the gold, man. I was getting bored."
Whatever my justifcation was, it wasn’t enough for Jay to let go.
We drove back to Los Angeles and he reminded me hourly, "Bring home the gold baby, ha ha ha!"
A friend called him. "You’ll never guess what Ben said to Kobe, ha ha," he said. "Bring home gold baby!"
A few months later I got a package in the mail from Jay. I smiled when I saw it was a gold T-shirt that says, "Go for the GOLD."
So in honor of the experience I had my friend Annie Pomeranz shoot a portrait to cement the story in history…with the addition of Ugg boots.